Breastfeeding Benefits: Study Finds Breast Milk Protects Infants From Illnesses And Infections

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BABY DRINKING MILK
A new study suggests that breastfeeding can improve a newborn's immune system and fight infections. | Shutterstock

Kids who have been breastfed have always had a long list of health benefits, and now researchers have added one more to the list: Good gut flora growth.

According to a study by Duke University's Medical Centre, a unique property found in breast milk is better than infant formula when it comes to protecting newborns from infections and illnesses.

Scientists have added that breast milk helps create colonies of microbiotic flora in an infant's intestinal tract -- or the gut -- which aids in absorbing nutrients and developing a stronger immune system.

"This study is the first we know of that examines the effects of infant nutrition on the way that bacteria grow, providing insight to the mechanisms underlying the benefits of breast feeding over formula feeding for newborns," says William Parker, an associate professor of surgery at Duke and senior author of the study, in a press release.

Gut flora remain important throughout our lives, working against the bad bacteria and helping make sure the good kind stays where it should, according to Mark Sisson of Mark's Daily Apple. In addition, as noted by Huffington Post blogger Dr. Isaac Eliaz, this flora develop in our bodies right after birth, and "can influence behavior throughout our lives by inducing changes in the expression of certain genes that control brain and neurological function."

According to Women's Health, the first few drops of a mother's breast milk are considered to be liquid gold. This liquid, or colostrum, is the thick yellow milk women produce during pregnancy and right after birth, and is rich in nutrients and antibodies. Other studies have shown that breast milk can fight respiratory infections, asthmas, obesity and Type 2 diabetes, according to Women's Health.

Scientists from the Duke University study grew bacteria in samples of infant formulas, cow's milk and breast milk. Researchers tested for a purified form of an antibody called secretory immunoglobulin A, which was found to be abundant in breast milk. This antibody is known to help create and protect an infant's immune system.

While other studies have shown that breast milk should be the first option for newborns, not all mothers are able to breastfeed or support adding milk to a strict vegan diet. One report found that soy protein-basted formulas can work just as well when it comes to brain development, according to the Arkansas Children' s Nutrition Centre.

RELATED: Here are8 tips to help make breastfeeding work for you from experts and moms who've been there.

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